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BODY WATCH : From Both Sides of the Stethoscope : THE PATIENT


It's a scene as old as cave art: patients seething in the waiting room over a 3 o'clock appointment that is nowhere close to happening, and doctors steaming behind their stethoscopes because they are running late--all because patients arrive late, which they do because doctors always run late because patients always arrive late because doctors always run late. . . .

'Round and 'round it goes.

So, we asked Liz Brody, senior editor at Shape magazine, and Dr. Jim Allen, a Malibu family physician, to fire off the top peeves of doctors and patients.

* Time is a terrible thing to waste.

Doctors are the reciprocal of dogs--one of their hours equals seven of ours. Why can't we seem to retain this information from one visit to the next? We drive through town like pinballs on Ritalin just to sit in the waiting room reading back issues of Ornithology Today and chanting oohhhhhmmmm so our blood pressure doesn't go through the roof. Obviously we'll never make our next appointment on time.

* Questions, questions, more questions.

Filling out medical histories shouldn't be worse than filling out tax returns. And how about when they test you on memory loss. You know the routine. I can no more remember the dates of my surgeries or which aunt has what disease than I can remember how much I spent for doctors visits in 1993.

* Oh, it's only a paper gown.

The "gown"--and aren't we overstating the case here?--looks as if it were ripped off a roll of Bounty. I wouldn't mind wearing it if there were some way to close it in the back, especially since the thermostat in the inner sanctum is always set for Haagen-Dazs.

* Pain of poundage.

Why is it that even if you go in for an infected eyebrow, they make you get on the scale?

* The hand that rocks the prescription pad.

So does that "Exorcist"-like penmanship read thiamine or Thorazine?

* The Pavlovian Pee Thing.

Although I run to the bathroom all night, come time to give a urine sample I'm as dry as a Santa Ana. It's fairly impossible to do it on cue. But for those who've mastered this level, there is the next challenge: tinkling within the boundaries of that teeny-wee-wee cup.

* Needles.

Need I say more?

* Hypochondriac until proven sick.

"If all your limbs are attached, stay away," my friend Ted says. "Unless you're missing one, doctors never listen to you." In general, I agree. Tell a doctor you've got a Kmart complaint like indigestion or fatigue and their eyes glaze over with a look that says, "I'm standing here in front of the fridge and can't find a thing to eat."

* R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

Find out what it means to me. MDs operate under the illusion that they possess IQs; we are Beavises and Butt-heads. It's an attitude thing, starting from the time they enter the examining room wearing our chart as a face mask. Then, with eye contact still at a minimum, they'll hit you with shred of eponychium on a proximal nail fold when they could have said hangnail.

* Evelyn Wood speed healing dynamics.

After all the waiting, the doctor pronounces you healed. And during that blip of an exam, it's amazing how the charges rack up! You can't help but wonder if that $400 mole absolutely had to come off or whether Doc needed new polo mallets.

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